The Ring franchise did not just find success with its movies, but also on television...more or less. First, there was the 1995 TV serial Ring: Kanzenban (or in English, “The Complete Edition”), and then two TV series called Ring: The Final Chapter and its sequel Rasen. While the first is utter trash, there is at least some creativity to be found in The Final Chapter. It is interesting seeing different takes on Ring, and though neither live up to the legacy of the film, at least one of them remains good in quality.
Ring: Kanzenban was actually the first adaptation of the novel, released in 1995 as a serial on Fuji TV. Yes, it is notable for the first outing into the world of Ring, but it is just a piece of rubbish. It is like a tepid, bland piece, despite probably being the closest adaptation of the novel, and has little creativity or enthusiasm in it. It was written by Joji Iida, who would later direct the retconned film sequel Rasen. This poor guy can’t get a break. The film seems to have zero interest in actually telling the story and instead is obsessed with nudity. It comes off like pornography. Sadako strictly appears in the nude, and there is an extensive scene with two characters parking. This is The Ring, for goodness sake.
Anyway, the film follows the same basic story of the novel. It actually incorporates the novel’s protagonist Kazuyuki Asakawa (Katsunori Takahashi), who investigates his niece’s death, finds the cursed videotape, you know the drill. He teams up with Ryuji Takayama (Yoshio Harada), who is portrayed as an eccentric oddball as in the novel. Harada probably gives the best performance in the film, while Takahashi portrays Asakawa as a mopey, indifferent bore. Sadako is played by former pin-up girl Ayane Miura, but the filmmakers decided to focus on her physical capabilities rather than her acting. There are brief moments where she captures Sadako’s former innocence, but it is overshadowed by the film’s obsession with nudity.
Kanzenban really is a poorly-made film, even if done on a television budget. The camerawork and lighting are strangely bleached, the acting is dull, and there is no attempt to create suspense or even a vague interest in telling the story.
The television series, Ring: The Final Chapter, is a vast improvement. It does take a lot of liberties with the source material, blending the novel and film together into a decent mystery drama. First off, the title doesn’t make sense. Why is it a final chapter? It was just one of many “chapters” in the franchise. The series does make a lot of changes to the story, but I do like the direction it takes. The cursed videotape now exists as a series of hidden imagery on a popular music video and the viewer has thirteen days to live instead of seven. How bizarre.
It follows the basic steps of the novel and film, but introduces numerous subplots which can drag a little bit. The curse itself is depicted as both supernatural and as a virus, with Ryuji and Mai (now portrayed as siblings) being the carrier and the trigger of the virus. Speaking of Ryuji, played by Tomoya Nagase, he undergoes quite the change, now a moody, young cultural anthropologist who dresses like a pseudo-rocker and sures like to dramatically turn to face the camera. I don’t particularly like this version of Ryuji, since he is strangely cruel and sadistic, lacking the charm of other incarnations.
Asakawa is played by Toshiro Yanagiba, who gives a weight, sincere performance, mixing with his film counterpart Reiko, and has Yoichi for a son. Another major characters is Akiko Yoshino (Kotomi Kyono), based on a character in the novels. She starts off as a little annoying, but becomes a more likeable character as the series progresses. Despite the glaring alterations to the plot, the show keeps a good pace for the most part, manages to avoid being melodramatic most of the time, and has good acting all around. However, its sequel series, Rasen, based on the second novel, is better.
The second season takes a lot of liberties with its source material as well, but does have a more engaging storyline. Mitsuo Ando is back, now played by Goro Kishitani, but now he has gone from a brooding pathologist to a cheerful, more philosophical teacher. The cursed videotape ends up on a CD (how modern!) and starts being used as a weapon by a mysterious criminal called the King of Terror, who claims to be the prophecized dark lord of Nostradamus’ predictions. The character plays a major role in the story, and is essentially the chessmaster behind everything in the show.
The presence of Sadako and the cursed videotape take a backseat on-and-off through the series, incorporating the more scientific elements of the novels. In a particularly gut-wrenching episode, Sadako clones Ando’s dead son Takanori, offering to keep him alive if Ando spreads the curse. He refuses and ultimately lets his son die again. Ando’s wife is in a care home following a breakdown after Takanori’s death, and is in a state of delusion, believing he is still alive. When Takanori dies again, Sadako tries to manipulate the mother into murdering Ando and she comes at him with a knife. Ando finally plucks up the courage to admit his guilt in their son’s death, and the couple embrace, much to Sadako’s confusion.
The series eventually goes to explore the King of Terror’s origins, revealing a rather haunting case of psychological child abuse that would have a lasting impact on all the characters involved. A major subplot of the series is trying to guess who is the King of Terror, though it becomes a little obvious since most of the cast has been killed off by the time his identity is revealed.
However, with all of these new plots and characters, the original Ring story does get lost, and the second half of the season does dissolve into mostly exposition. The series starts off pretty good, with an office full of murdered workers, the cursed CD is sent to a TV station to be broadcast, a psychic predicts an earthquake live on TV just before it happens, etc. It has a lot of potential, and while entertaining, does become a bit confusing with its overcomplicated storyline. If I did have one criticism for the whole television series, the story does feel a little stretched out to cover thirteen episodes, while the second season does the opposite.
Ring Kanzenban - 1/10
Ring: The Final Chapter - 6/10
Rasen - 7/10